5 Steps For A Calm, Cool, And Collected Argument With Your Partner

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How To Keep Calm & Communicate With Your Partner During A Fight

Couples with great communication skills know how to fix a relationship and calm down when in the middle of a heated fight.

Relationship problems are normal. But, when a series of irritable interactions happen, you wish that you and your partner could just calm down and talk.  

I’ve been a couples therapist for nearly 20 years now and I often say that couple’s communication is incredibly subtle and quick. Couples have a special radar for the smallest cue of a potential negative reaction and once things heat up, it's hard to calm down.

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The tiniest sniff, shift, or smirk can enrage a partner, even if it has nothing to do with them. In all this time, no one has ever argued this point. Couples always grin and shake their heads. Yes, sometimes it takes next to nothing to bug your beloved. 

My husband and I go through this too. Having been together for 37 years, it’s no wonder. What I notice is that we’ll get in a little negative communication trend, what I might call an "overheated" period in which we are especially sensitive or touchy.

Summer vacations seem to be especially ripe for these moments. We’re usually tired, excited, a little financially stretched, off schedule and spending a whole lot of extra time together. 

I’m not suggesting that couples (or friends) should just avoid conflict and not communicate. But there are times when the energy between you is so reactive that no good conversation can happen.

For those times, there are some tried and true methods straight from couples therapy that really work to push the reset button in healthy relationships and move forward with some peace.

To fix a relationship during a fight, here are 5 steps to better communication you need to take.

1. Slow down and breathe

Just take a moment to move, if you can, and stop what you are doing or saying. Let your partner know that you just need a second to collect yourself.

I realize this is easier said than done, but if you can agree to a safe escape plan before you get into an argumentative mood, you will both understand that it is a good calming tool rather than a way to avoid or disregard the other. 

2. Acknowledge to yourself that maybe it is both of you

I know that every part of you probably believes it is really your partner's fault. But for just a second, take a breath and own that perhaps you might have just the slightest bit to do with the interactions you are having.

Trust me, when you own 100 percent of your part in a relationship, you’ll have a lot more power for what happens within it.

After you’ve slowed down and shifted your attention inward, you open the possibility that you can learn from whatever is happening, Now learning something about yourself has become your "win".

3. See if you can feel a bit of love toward your partner

If it's genuinely possible, offer your loved one of these three gifts: patience, curiosity or compassion. I don’t care which one, as long as you can sincerely feel even a tiny bit of any of these characteristics.

Here are a few of the countless ways an exchange based upon these qualities might sound: 

  • "I see that you are hurting. I'm calmer now and can get a little curious about what is most hurtful for you."
  • "I feel a little stuck and frustrated when I really just want to feel loved and understood. I imagine you might feel the same way. Let’s try to get on the same side."
  • "I feel really confused right now, by both of our emotions. How about we take a few moments when I can get clear about what I need and open up to hear more about your thoughts as well?"
  • "I’m sorry. This is a familiar fight we’re in. I bet you feel it too. I love you, you know." 
  • "Listen, I’m a little upset, and I can see you’re feeling some strong feelings too. Maybe we hit a nerve, huh?"

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4. Study yourself

When you have a second to yourself, take a deep calming breath and notice what you feel like in your body or what you hear yourself say in your mind.

I encourage you to get enough space from this feeling to be able to feel or hear it as just a part of you, rather than the whole. This part of you, too, needs some loving care. If, for example, you hear yourself say that your partner is being “selfish,” rather than focusing on your partner’s selfishness, focus toward the part of you that feels harmed by selfishness. 

What is the pain this part of you feels? Sometimes parts of us hold very deep feelings about not being acceptable or enough. You might learn that you have a part that feels deeply disappointed and unloved or unlovable.

Early life experiences influence the development of our personalities. Don’t be surprised, when you examine these deeper parts of yourself, if you feel very young. See if you can notice what age you feel. This may be when you developed this part of you that holds hurt feelings. 

It may feel in the moment that it would just be easier to be angry with your loved one and blame them for these feelings.

However, in the long run, what you learn about your own reaction, your feelings and beliefs and the parts of you that hold these deeper sensations will create a springboard for improved communication and self-confidence. This is the gift of conflict — not how we can change the other but what we can learn about ourselves. 

5. Share with each other

After you do all of this, you now have genuine options about how to proceed.

With your nervous system calmed, your mind is freer to think. When you hear your emotions, you are in a better position to share without shame. When you acknowledge young parts of your personality that may be taking over the conversation, you can have a more mature, clear and present-day conversation.

Now, you can do what feels the kindest to both of you. You may want to ask if you could share with your partner what is happening for you. Or, you could ask if there is anything your partner would like to share with you about how they are feeling. 

I’ll share one more tidbit from couple’s therapy: When a couple is able to really slow down and get curious about what is happening inside themselves (rather than just defending against the other), they generally want nearly the same thing. 

Take a moment and imagine that you and your dearest may want the same thing — like to be heard and loved — but you have been going about it in the wrong way.

I will guarantee you that, at first, that you will feel very awkward chilling out in these ways. See if you can practice together with a little humor and lightheartedness.

If you’ve been in a long-term relationship, let’s face it, you’ve probably practiced arguing plenty. Why not give a calm connection a try?

RELATED: 8 Smart Ways To Fight-Proof Your Relationship (Even When You Two Disagree)

Ingrid Helander is a Marriage and Family Therapist. For more information on her services, visit her website and sign up for her newsletter or pick up her book: Calm Your Worries: Unlock Your Secret Code to Lasting Stress Relief and Self-Confidence.

This article was originally published at Ingrid Y. Helander, LMFT Blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.